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Manchester Mulls Another PDR Opt-Out, And Property Industry Agrees


Manchester City Council is considering an opt-out from the government’s latest tweaks to permitted development rights. The council fears the rule change could mean poor quality residential conversions of former office buildings.

The council is concerned about the rule change, which takes permitted development rights a stage further. The new rules allow the demolition of a detached office building of less than 10K SF if it is not in a conservation area and is replaced by a block of flats. It also allows existing blocks of flats to grow by two storeys up to a maximum building height of 30 metres.

“Recent research published by MHCLG on previous changes to permitted development rights (offices to residential) … highlighted significant concerns about the quality of development that resulted from the changes. A number of cases around the country have been highlighted in the professional and general media demonstrating poor design and living conditions for new occupants of the converted office buildings,” a report to councillors said.

Manchester city centre is already excluded from some permitted development right rules. The council is considering whether to use Article 4 planning powers to limit them further.

“Our previous experience in bringing forward the Article 4 directions with respect to changes from commercial to residential uses illustrates the potential challenge behind the new permitted development rights,” the document said.

The property industry largely agrees with Manchester city council: Although very few buildings in central Manchester would be likely to fall within the scope of the rule change, private sector consultants think the council is right to object.

“It’s an odd change for the government to make,” Savills Manchester Planning Director Jeremy Hinds said. “The council is taking a reasonable view based on the evidence, which is that office-to-resi conversion produces homes that are not well designed. And this PDR change is at odds with the government’s other policy of building better and more beautiful homes. The city council is on the right side of the argument here. There are better ways of getting more homes built.”

The rationale for a Manchester exclusion from the new PDR rules would be based on claims that Manchester is a nationally significant area of economic activity and that the loss of economic uses would have substantial economic consequences, and risk high-quality residential development. They would also show that the city can accommodate both employment and residential growth within its boundaries.